On July 14, we announced our 2020 Student Leadership Award winners. These graduating dental students exemplify our value of service, and we are proud to provide support as they embark on their careers. Yescenia Perez, from Western University College of Dental Medicine, was not only the President of the Student Hispanic Dental Association, but she reinvigorated its flagging membership. She also designed a Spanish-language curriculum for dental students to help them better serve their largely Hispanic patient population. With all she accomplished as a student, we wanted to learn more about Yescenia – what is next for her and how she will carry her passion for service into her career.

Image of Yescenia Perez in graduation robes

What are your plans for the future?

I plan to work for a Federally Qualified Health Center that provides care to underserved populations, similar to the clinics I volunteered in prior to starting dental school. My interest in dentistry began when I became a volunteer and saw the need for health care providers who could speak Spanish, like me. The community I volunteered for had a lot of Hispanic families suffering from oral health disease, just like my own family. I want to make an impact and affect a positive change in society. My goal is to return to these community clinics and provide dental care for the children who need me the most. That’s why I plan to further my education and will be applying to Pediatric Residency programs this summer. I love working with patients of all ages, but I realized I can have the biggest impact working with children from an early age. Many patients have told me that they wished they met me sooner, and I know that by working with young children I will be able to help them understand importance of oral health disease prevention.

Can you talk about the importance of service in your life?

Every time I volunteer, it gives me the opportunity to help someone else that didn’t have the benefit of an early intervention or didn’t have access to care. My little sister did not have the opportunity for early intervention, and her dental problems affected me so much that I began to volunteer. Volunteering in dental clinics is where my passion for dentistry began. I made it my ultimate goal to make sure that every child that I come across will understand the importance of education, prevention and oral health because I value the helping others while making this world a better place, one patient at a time.

I began my journey by dedicating countless hours volunteering at a community health clinic in Solana Beach, California, where underserved and underinsured children received free dental care. I noticed a lack of proper oral health care education and a gap in care for many of these patients because English was not their first language. As the only Spanish speaker at the clinic, I felt a responsibility to create an oral health program in Spanish to educate the children and parents. Through my community involvement and passion for dentistry, I started to see a change in the lives of these children.

When I began volunteering, I was surprised to learn that so many children were exclusively Spanish speakers and affected with early childhood caries [ed note: the disease that causes cavities] and had no understanding of proper oral hygiene. These children reminded me of my youngest sister. I choose to help this community, aching in pain, with no dental home to seek out for care. Although I was not a dentist at the time and could not alleviate their pain, I knew I could start by fixing the root of the problem through proper education. I taught a group of children the importance of oral health disease prevention. They can pass that on to their younger siblings, and that creates a domino effect of proper care. I have gone on many volunteer trips to Mexico and speaking fluent Spanish has helped my interactions with patient throughout the years. Some of my favorite organizations to volunteer for are the Hispanic Student Dental Association, Dental Care for Children, Thousand Smiles foundation, and the AYUDA international.

What does it mean to you to be recognized as a Delta Dental Student Leader?

To be recognized for my leadership and volunteer work is an honor and means a lot to me. It shows that what I am doing is having a positive impact. Thanks to this award, I will be able to continue to pursue an education in pediatric dentistry and will be able to realize my dreams of leaving a positive impact in the community. I will also be able to visit El Reino De Los Niños (The Kids Kingdom), an independent Christian orphanage and home in Ensenada, Mexico. I had the opportunity to volunteer there, and I cannot wait to return as a Dentist.